If you’re reluctant to take prescription medication for anxiety, Benadryl may sound like an easy, inexpensive solution. But it’s not a good idea. Here’s why.
Anxiety doesn’t have a schedule. You may wake up with the tell-tale feeling of constriction in your chest, or it may hit you during an important work meeting.
This is why you may be looking for go-to ways to manage your symptoms. You may wonder whether over-the-counter medications may be an option.
Benadryl is a common allergy medication found in many households around the country. It can make some people drowsy and sleepy.
So, could it be used for anxiety, too? It’s not a good idea. Here’s why.
Benadryl is not an anxiety medication. It’s an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine.
Its primary purpose is to provide temporary relief from hay fever and upper respiratory allergy symptoms. Benadryl’s generic name is diphenhydramine.
It works by blocking histamines in your central nervous system (CNS) and other parts of the body.
Histamines, the chemical messengers in your body that help with daily function, are also a part of your immune response.
When a foreign molecule enters your body and is seen as a threat, histamines encourage the inflammatory response that results in allergy symptoms.
Benadryl blocks histamine signals and acts as an CNS depressant. This helps provide allergy symptom relief. It may also cause other sensations, such as drowsiness and sedation.
This is why some people may believe that Benadryl can help relieve anxiety, but research is far from reassuring when it comes to this effect and many experts advise against it.
Benadryl and sleep
The ability of Benadryl to cause sedation is one reason you may look to it for anxiety relief. But drowsiness doesn’t translate to anxiety relief.
You may feel sedated or tired when you take Benadryl, but the anxiety and its effects on your body can still be there.
If your anxiety stems from sleep disturbances, Benadryl may indirectly affect symptoms if it helps you get to sleep faster.
However, keep in mind that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) advises against taking Benadryl for sleep.
According to the AASM, long-term use of antihistamines for sleep regulation purposes is understudied. This means that there may be serious side effects when taking the drug for reasons other than allergies.
In sum, taking Benadryl to sleep better is not recommended.
Benadryl and H1 receptors
Many theories into how Benadryl may affect anxiety exist but have yet to be backed up by research.
One of the most popular schools of thought is that Benadryl may improve anxiety symptoms through its affinity for H1 receptors in the body.
The H1 receptor is directly involved with the body’s inflammatory response. Preliminary animal studies suggest that it might also have an impact on anxiety symptoms, but these results have yet to be demonstrated in human studies.
But again, this is only seen in animals, and the research is older. Newer studies with actual people are needed, so we don’t know whether the process would replicate in humans.
Benadryl is not approved for anxiety treatment and has no safety trials to support that use.
Only a healthcare professional may determine if the short-term use of Benadryl may be a part of your treatment plan.
Using Benadryl for anxiety is off-label. Only a healthcare professional can determine its potential benefits for a particular case.
Additionally, if you experience a serious side effect during off-label use, the drug manufacturer may not offer you any compensation.
Without significant research or proven long-term clinical use, there’s no way to know all the potential complications from using Benadryl to treat anxiety.
This is why it’s highly advisable to use Benadryl only for allergies and as directed by your healthcare team.
There’s no research that supports using Benadryl for managing panic attacks, or research that shows you will see an improvement in your symptoms.
If you experience panic attacks, your healthcare professional can prescribe a proven and safe medication specifically for them.
Long-term unsupervised Benadryl use may also lead to tolerance and dependence. It may take more and more of the medication for you to feel the same effects.
High doses of Benadryl can also be fatal in some cases.
Side effects of Benadryl
Using Benadryl for anxiety is not backed up by scientific evidence.
The use of Benadryl for allergies has shown some potential side effects.
Common side effects may include:
- impaired coordination
- abdominal discomfort
- thickened bronchial mucus
- dry mucous membranes
- urinary retention
- low blood pressure
- uncontrollable bodily movements
- difficulty urinating
- blurred vision
- double vision
- light sensitivity
- sexual dysfunction
- reproductive changes
- loss of appetite
- paradoxical CNS stimulation
Serious and rare reactions of Benadryl may include:
- anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
- QT prolongation
- irregular heartbeat
- toxic psychosis
Taking too much Benadryl
You can experience side effects even while using Benadryl as recommended.
Taking too much can result in toxicity, and it may be lethal.
Overdosing on Benadryl may lead to:
- loss of muscle coordination or control
- dry sweat glands and mucous membranes
- flushed skin
- racing heart rate
- breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers
- urinary retention
Benadryl in children and teens
Benadryl is not approved for anxiety treatment in people of any age.
As an antihistamine, it can be used in children over the age of 6.
A pediatrician can help you decide whether your child has a unique need for off-label Benadryl use. Administering the medication without approval from a healthcare professional could result in severe reactions.
One of the possible side effects of Benadryl is called paradoxical CNS stimulation. It’s a condition where you experience the opposite drug reaction to what’s expected.
Most people experience side effects of drowsiness and sedation on Benadryl. For some people, Benadryl can have the opposite effect.
Instead of feeling sleepy, you may experience excitation and agitation, which might make anxiety symptoms feel worse.
There’s no way to predict who will have a paradoxical reaction.
There are no studies linking Benadryl, or its active ingredient diphenhydramine, directly to the symptoms of clinical depression.
Feeling tired, lethargic, or mentally foggy on Benadryl is often from the drug’s CNS depressant effects.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression while taking Benadryl, your mental healthcare team can evaluate your symptoms and check for co-occurring conditions.
Benadryl is an antihistamine that may cause you to feel sedated and drowsy. This doesn’t mean it calms anxiety symptoms, though. There’s simply no scientific evidence to support its use for anxiety. In fact, it’s not recommended for this purpose.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, a healthcare professional can help you find the right medication for your symptoms. There may be some over-the-counter options, but Benadryl is not one of them.
Consulting with your healthcare team before starting Benadryl treatment for any reason can help you avoid health complications.
They can also help you determine the right treatment for your symptoms. Anxiety can be managed, and there are proven ways to feel better.